SchoolArts Room

Planning Lessons Around a Big Idea

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Jan 15, 2017

This week I was at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe where I went on a photographic treasure hunt. I had lesson planning on my mind, especially concerning lessons that would be meaningful and engaging and based on a big idea or commonality. I returned to a structure I have used much in past - working from Ernest Boyers' Human Commonalities.

There are eight commonalities that people have shared throughout time and geography, one of which is that we all use symbols. The symbol I decided to hunt for was the hand.

I walked through the museum, looking for hands everywhere. These pieces here are milagros, little miracles, that represent prayers or thanks. The Museum's collection is one of the first exhibits you see on entering.
This hand is part of a blanket.
 More milagros.
If you have time to visit a museum ahead of a school visit, you could choose a symbol or other idea, take photos, and then use them for a previsit activity or make a treasure hunt for the visit.

Once I got home, I looked back through photos I already had for more images of hands.

Hands are one of the earliest symbols found and usually seem to have a positive intention. Think about the open hand we offer in friendship.
A hand at Meow Wolf, a contemporary collaborative exhibition in Santa Fe.
 A hand by Roxanne Swentzell from a funerary urn.
 A sign I found in Eureka Springs, Arkansas,
I don't remember where I took the photo of a door knocker.
A student work based on hands.
How could you use this approach to develop a lesson? Choose a symbol, take and find photos, share them, and discuss with your students possible meanings of the symbol. Challenge them to each choose a personal message to express through that symbol with the media of their choice.